Cotton's Many Faces

Cotton and polyester dominate – what are the alternatives?

Most clothes we wear are either produced from cotton or from petroleum. Which is a problem, since growing cotton uses up to 25% of all pesticides in the world and in many countries cotton-farming consumes vast quantities of a scarce resource: water. Petroleum is the basis for polyester (one of the most-used textiles), nylon and acrylic – a non-renewable resource. If we go back in time, wool and leaf-based textiles (linen made from nettle and hemp, for example) were predominant materials; and actually much more eco-friendly. Along with rediscovering the positive aspects of these “old” raw materials, designers are trying out new and innovative textiles based on a wide variety of plants, proteins and even what most people would consider garbage: Plastic bottles and coffee-grinds to mention two such innovative and relatively new sources for textiles.

Material diversity is a key to a more sustainable textile world

Some of these new materials will probably represent just a small fringe, along with the somewhat small (relatively speaking) amounts of organic raw materials that are available. There are many stumbling-blocks when it comes to judging the relative eco-profile of different raw materials, but if you click on your choice on the side (in the over-view), we will give you some concerns and some advice, and also guide you to on-line resources that can help you further along the way. New research and new knowledge keeps developing, and it is our ambition to keep you updated on what is going on. The cotton-growers are slowly, but surely cleaning up their act and many man-made fibres are being developed based on sustainable and renewable resources rather than oil.

Material diversity (alternatives to conventional cotton and polyester) is a key to a more sustainable textile world. If you must use cotton – use organically grown, low-chemical; hand-picked, rain-fed, drip-irrigated or fair trade cotton, or substitute with hemp or flax. And make sure your raw-material is of the best quality, so that it will last. Cutting corners on quality is one of the most hurt-ful things you can do to the environment.

Recommendations: 
Try to choose fibres that have score higher in life cycle assessements.
Whatever you do, try to avoid conventional cotton, there are now so many alternatives that are better and more sustainable!
Remember that water represents the biggest environmental problem in the world, and this must be addressed at the raw-material stage.
Those who source and grow the raw materials often are not paid living wages; be aware that minimum wages are far from adequate.